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Empowering Female Leadership in the Healthcare Industry

More women leaders are needed in the healthcare industry. Getting ahead starts with confidence, self-advocacy, and teamwork.

“The best advice I’ve ever received is to trust myself and to be myself,” says Robin Shapiro, the global president for TBWA\WorldHealth, noting it’s important to feel confident in your own abilities and then be able to make decisions quickly and pivot as needed.

TBWA\WorldHealth, which has more women leaders than men, is known as “The Disruption® Company” because it helps clients such as Bayer, Pfizer, Merck, and others break free from conventional thinking to create a more purposeful and profitable future for their brands. The company has a relentless approach to healthy, trusting client relationships, which has resulted in record-breaking rates of client retention and organic growth since its founding four years ago.

Authentic self

Shapiro is focused on creating safe spaces where the voices of women and people of color can be heard.

“You need an environment where you can completely be yourself, because when you are comfortable being who you really are, you have room to make mistakes,” she says.

Sharon Callahan, CEO of TBWA\WorldHealth, agrees. When her son was 11, he told her, “Stop talking to me like I’m one of your employees.”

She realized it was important to always be her authentic self.

“By being who I am and not compartmentalizing different parts of my life, it made my life and my leadership much richer,” she says. “I think it’s also given other people the permission to bring their whole selves to work. And when everyone brings their whole selves to work, then the workplace is just much better.”

Callahan, who’s gay, was out to her work colleagues, back in the early ‘90s.

Then and now, she says most of the healthcare industry leaders were straight white men. That dynamic can advance when people feel safe and see people like themselves in leadership roles.


These days Callahan, who was named the 2019 Woman of the Year by the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, is an LGTBQ mentor and advocate. She co-founded two groups, omniWomen, a women’s leadership affinity group, and Open Pride, an LGBTQ+ employee resource group. 

Women should seek out mentors and ask colleagues to sponsor them.

“I’ve had some great female role models that really challenged me and pushed me,” says Shapiro, who mentors first-generation college students at Waukegan to College in Illinois. “And I would say they became my mentors because I sought them out.”


“Women are very humble,” says Callahan. “And when you’re humble, you’re invisible.”

Visibility is important for all women and their peers. “Not only should we be telling our stories of success, we should be talking about other women’s stories of success,” she says.

Advocate for yourself and other women, especially when it comes to leadership roles.

“When women break through that glass ceiling, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down and bring others up with you,” says Callahan.


“Don’t be in a race to the finish line,” says Shapiro.

She tells women to excel at their job, ask for frequent feedback, and be an excellent peer and mentor to others: “You will get there.”

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